The importance of having a keen understanding for both our physical and digital contexts.
I have been thinking a lot lately about what the definition of ‘space’ is today, and what that means for architects. It is very obvious that as humans we co-inhabit, at least, 2 contexts regularly: the physical and the digital. Traditionally, architects have been the artists, scientists, engineers of the physical, while a new breed of creative emerged to shape the digital. As these two contexts further have their boundaries blurred a newer breed of creative will emerge, one that not only understands the physical or the digital, but one who understands both and how to shape the coexistence of the two.
Space: /spās/ noun: the dimensions of height, depth, and width within which all things exist and move.
To start, we need to understand the definition of space. Traditionally this definition is in reference to the physical context, but as technology evolves the definition further relates to that of our digital context. No longer do we solely exist on a physical plane, but also on the digital web.
Today, we spend more time in our digital context than ever before. We are able to entertain, love, create, shop, learn, socialize, work and more within this context. As the time we spend digitally immersed steadily increases, I become more curious as to why architects do not participate more in the creation of the digital space and more specifically, its coexistence with the physical.
There is a place within space creation of digital contexts for architects; in fact, there is a desperate need for these behavioral artists and experiential scientists to apply their skill sets and expertise to both physical and digital contexts. As the boundaries between the physical and digital are further blurred, an economy that is focused on the coexistence of the two is further realized and the need to have a keen understanding in both contexts is crucial.
Architects are experiential experts who rely on data and intuition to supplement their creativity in order to create immersive and engaging experiences for people within their physical context. Understanding how a person behaves and how a space can affect, or not affect, a person’s behavior is part of the expertise of an architect. These creatives push physical space creation to its limits, regularly, while sticking to age-old principles that are proven in order to turn space into ‘place.’ Digital space creation is still in its infancy compared to that of physical space. The practice of architecture is as old as life itself as well as the basic principles of human behavior that the architecture practice entails.
Today’s architects have an opportunity to stand with one leg in the physical and one leg in the digital context and create spaces of coexistence between the two. Our digital context has created a new spatial geography that led to a mass of technologically savvy creative taking to the gold rush early on. But as the two contexts further intersect, the keen understanding of space in the physical world that architects possess will become ever more crucial to the evolution of digital technologies. Having a firm understanding of the two allows for the two contexts to work in tandem to best create quality experiences that enrich the lives of people/users.
I believe that there are numerous places today where an architect, architectural designer, or urban designer could utilize their expertise and creative ability within startups, technology companies, advertising agencies and hardware companies while helping to shape the physical/digital intersection:
- As online retailers such as Frank and Oak take a step into brick and mortar, the convergence of the physical and digital shopping experience takes place. More and more online retailers are sprouting pop up shops across world, allowing for quick and temporary experiences. These pop up shops allow for the quick testing and iteration of physical space as it relates to its digital counterpart.
- As our usage of mobile applications and technologies further affect our behaviors, the ability to shape a physical experience becomes more prevalent. Today, we reference mobile applications to know where to get the best hamburger, grab a coffee, find a book, or simply find a bathroom within the city. These technologies also allow us to know more about where we are at, who’s been there, what has taken place, etc., serving as a digital journal of sorts of a location, be that a store, restaurant, park or bench. etc.
- Marketers are looking for more ways to get in front of a consumer, now more than ever. By understanding how solutions can enhance physical space, rather than simply being tacked on, the opportunity for immersive experiences within the physical/digital context become ever more possible.
- Data is being mined at an exponential rate allowing for real time insights to drive key marketing decisions. With the rise in online to offline commerce, and vice versa, a keen understanding for how each affects behavioral patterns of its users becomes more crucial.
- When we were kids, we had Legos, which allowed for us to create physical space out of plastic blocks. Today, we have the likes of LittleBits, which allows for plastic blocks to interface with a digital context; the intersection in its most physical form. Legos allow for us to learn practical spatial lessons, whereas technology, such as LittleBits, introduces us to an opportunity to create space that through motion, pressure, sound, and more, can affect a digital outcome. Likewise, technologies such as IFTTT and it’s Belkin WeMo partner, allow for digital behaviors to manipulate physical contexts.
- Sphero is a great example of how hardware and augmented reality go hand in hand towards manipulating our physical world. These technologies not only allow for us to experience our physical context in a new manner through a digital lens, but also allow for a physical element to interact with the two contexts, simultaneously.
The focus on understanding both physical and digital space is actively growing in importance. As technology evolves, it allows digital contexts to affect physical behavior, and vice versa, at an increased level every second. As our physical and digital contexts further intersect, an economy around a creative breed that has a keen understanding of both of these contexts and how each affect the other will grow in importance. I believe, that architects, architectural designers and urban designers have a great opportunity to not only partake in the shaping of digital space, but also more importantly play a crucial part in shaping the physical/digital intersection.